How space saves us money

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not talking about massive McMansions that require a map to get from one side of the house to another. I am talking about having space for a very specific room that is close to my heart.

I am someone who was privileged enough to grow up most of my childhood in a reasonably large house with a large garden. We did not have to share a bedroom, the toilet and shower were separate rooms (so useful!), and in the basement was one room specifically designated for storing foodstuffs. It is to the latter, the glorious pantry, that I dedicate this post.

As any student and young adult, it should come as no surprise to anyone that my first almost ten years after moving out was spent in smaller apartments and with roommates. These spaces had no pantry. Whatever food you bought was marched promptly into the kitchen for storage, or sometimes moved into your room. I always had a kettle and some “emergency food” in my room for times when there was a party going on in the kitchen that I would rather not join.

In London as well, where Mr. E. and I spent two years while Mr. E. finished his undergrad degree, we had only a tiny kitchen with no additional storage possibilities. It was tight, and we constantly had to make priorities in terms of bulk purchases with regard to what would actually fit in our very limited space.

For instance, we enjoy homemade sauerkraut. It is the first fermented food I ever made, and it is delicious in wraps and as a relish on veggie dogs and other foods. In London, we always had four jars for this food item. You see, one small cabbage makes two jars. A jar takes about a month to mature, so throughout the year we would continually have two jars ready to eat, and two jars maturing.

This might seem like a good system, but it was actually relatively expensive. Being limited to four jars meant that I had to buy cabbage throughout the year, not when it was in season. We were not able to buy when prices were low and make loads for the rest of the year.

We also could not buy 10 of anything if prices were down on anything we ate a lot of. We simply did not have the space. Similarly, shopping had to be done twice a week, as there was no way our tiny fridge — and when I say tiny, I mean tiny. It was one of those minifridges that reach up to about hip level. — was able to accommodate the diet of two people for any prolonged period of time, even with the two of us constantly leaving produce on the bench on a scale of “will this spoil before we plan to eat it? If no, leave it out.”.

Even doing the best we could, we often experienced food spoiling, especially when fresh veg had been pushed against the very back of the fridge where the short distance to the cooling elements had caused it to freeze, thaw and rot.

It was also way easier to buy processed or half-processed food. After all, we had so little space, how would we cook it/make it efficiently? Yes, these were excuses, and I am sure we could have made a cheaper grocery shop if we tried just a little bit harder. But we were both either studying or working full-time with long commutes and looming exhaustion/depression. We did not have the energy to spare to optimise our food budget beyond spending only what we had previously agreed upon.

Oh pantry, how can I praise thee?

Contrast that to our current situation. When I first viewed the flat we currently live in, we were thrilled that it had a storage room. We figured it would be nice to get all our backpacks, suitcases and tools our of the general living area, but had not much hope beyond that.

When we actually moved in, I quickly realised what a gem this narrow storage room was. The owners told me that there had been an issue with mould and damp in this room. But, being conscientious landowners, they had recently installed a brand new fan system for both the storage and the bathroom. In addition, the storage room faced north, was mostly underground, and had no windows (which means it would keep an even, cool temperature throughout the year). Add to that the new fans that made the air fresh and free of dampness, and you might understand why this was the perfect pantry. It did not take much talk with Mr. E. before we had agreed to allot half the room to storage of things, and the other half to storage of foodstuffs.

Why on earth does such a seemingly small and insignificant room in our apartment make me so excited?

For one, as in my aforementioned example about sauerkraut, I can now buy all the cabbage we need for a whole year in one go (provided I have enough glasses to store it in). That means I can wait for the one time a year in autumn when prices drop to ridiculous 1 NOK per kg (less than $0.06 per pound). Throughout the year, prices can easily go up to 10-20 times that, so you can see how this simple concept of having space adds up in the long run.

This mentality works for any other item of food with a long shelf life. We all know that buying in bulk is the cheaper option, but many forget that in order to be able to do that, you do actually need the facilities to be able to store said bulk items, preferably without tripping over them.

Some items, on the other hand, are only available at certain times of the year, and requires space to store if one wishes to enjoy its spoils at any other time. Any type of foraging, berry picking, herbs, mushroom or otherwise falls into this category.

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Meadowsweet juice, an example of a foodstuff that can only be made in summer, and thence must be stored if one wishes to consume its sweet nectar at any other time.

Another example: When I first moved back to Norway, I lived with a friend a bit outside of town until I had found a flat. While living there, I got to know their amazing local ethnic shop. So great is this shop (and its prices so competitive compared to its fellow shops in the city, with comparable higher rents) that it is not uncommon to see whole families flocking there every Saturday, hauling ten bags or more onto the bus as they make the trek back to their respective homes in vastly different parts of the city.

We would also like to make use of this shop and its offers. But again, it is more than a little out of our way (especially since neither of us has monthly bus passes, as we either walk or bike to work/university). The solution has been, that whenever we spend money on the bus to visit my friend (we happily use the bus for social occasions like these), we make sure to bring large backpacks with us, so that we can load up on beans, lentils, soy sauce and cheap produce at the same time. The pantry, again, allows us to store this stuff, often two months or more worth of products, without any hassle.

The same goes for flour, sugar, canned tomatoes, coconut milk, homemade jams, jellies etc. Whenever there is a sale of any non-perishable food item that we use regularly, we buy as much as we can carry. We are both the kind of people who really like to have extra food stocked up “just in case”, so this works to our advantage. It means we can limit our food shopping to once a week, and as we all know, the less often you shop, the less likely you are to be tempted by various offers. This is also great practice for when we buy/build our dream home in the woods, where I expect our shopping trips to be even rarer.

The psychological aspect

All right, a small confession from my side: both Mr. E. and myself can be terrible snackers. If we are continually seeing a tasty treat, we are more likely to want it and eat it. Bad for our wallets and bad for our waistlines.

At the same time, we also like having a little tasty something in store (see above “just in case”). For instance, if a friend pops over for a Friday night movie, we would like to be able to offer a little something to nibble without spending hours in the kitchen.

Again, the pantry comes to our aid. Since we both grew up with pantries, we are equally ingrained with our mothers’ admonitions that food in the pantry is not to be taken without permission. it is for “later”. Similarly, the bar for taking snacks we both know are in the pantry when the other person is not at home is quite high.

Another part of this is simply that we forget the snack is there. By not having the snack in the kitchen and in plain sight, we are not continually exposed to it. And again, being able to buy on sale (so long as we manage not to eat it straight away!) saves us money in the long run. It also means we always have the ingredients to make something for dinner and gives us no excuse to just pop by the shop outside our allotted weekly shopping day. If we forget to buy something or feel the food is a bit bland one week. Well, that’s just a reminder to plan better next time, isn’t it?

Eventually, we would like to find a used standing freezer to put in the pantry as well. Our current freezer, while about four times bigger than our London freezer, is still a bit small to accommodate several different kinds of frozen bulk dinners. Imagine the luxury of being able to store not just one or two, but six or seven different kinds of dinners, all made in bulk and ready to eat after thawing. Perfect for busy weekdays.

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Bulk cooking wins the week! (here shown by lentil loaf with rice and sauce)

I do realise that space is a premium, especially for people who live in large cities. But I cannot exaggerate just how much I love having a pantry again.

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